Brew Biz: Werts and All

The Topic- How NOT to Judge Beer

Written by Ken Carman

I opened up the beer: pre-competition judging. I think I had judged 3 or 4 competitions at that point: at best. I wasn’t BJCP yet and hadn’t thought through my duties to those who had spent so much time and effort brewing and submitting beer. The smell literally filled the big upstairs room at Boscos where we were judging. A National rated judge at the other end of the table gagged and said, “Whew, all that in one bottle?”

Hence the birth of “dirty diaper beer.”

I’m guilty. I came up with the term. Yes, I put it on the judging form I was filling out.

Other that, we did almost everything else right. We opened the second bottle just to be sure it wasn’t just that bottle. We tasted it. Correction. I tasted it. Everyone else refused. Then we judged and I think I gave it a six or a seven out of 50.

Remember I said “almost everything?” Well, some other judge should have tasted it than me. I should have given it a higher score: at least a 13. And, to add insult to injury, since we were at the end of that night of judging and had judged probably at least 20 beers, if I remember right, we were all laughing and joking about the beer.

Not exactly professional by any means. My only defense is I was new to judging; no one had told me otherwise, and I was flat out ignorant. Even the judge who had a rank of National: pretty high for the un-BJCP-initiated, joined in the fun some.

People do spend a lot of time, money and effort brewing and submitting beer to competition. They deserve the best judges and judging possible: and there’s the conundrum. Even the BJCP recognizes how hard it is to get the number of judges needed for competition. That’s probably one of the reasons why if you flunk their test you’re still considered BJCP, and likely one of the reasons why non-BJCP judges can judge.

It’s a learning process and, to be honest, if as a BJCP judge you turn competition into stern lectures for those judging with you, you’re doing nothing to encourage people to judge well. I’ll type that again… you’re doing nothing to encourage people to judge well. I know: “counter intuitive.” But people need a little space and respect if they are to learn… even if they don’t deserve it.

Not only do those who pay money and submit beer to competitions need to have their beer and efforts treated well, so do those who study and pay to sometimes go way the hell out of their way to take tests like the BJCP exam deserve respect. And those who give up their time to judge beer also need room to learn, rather than feeling like the higher rated judge at the head of their table is some Catholic nun slapping their knuckles all the time, or an old time elementary teacher who embarrasses some wayward student by pulling her over his knee, pulling up her skirt and paddling her in front a class filled with laughing boys.

That’s what essentially what one Grand Master who judged in our competition did one year, another of my early judging sessions. I was on the other side of the room at a different table and I could hear him loudly lecturing his fellow judges and everyone in general regarding how every beer they opened should be judged.

Frankly, if I ruled the beer judging universe, I don’t care how well known he is, I be tempted to offer him the choice of being knocked down to apprentice or never being a BJCP judge again. But, you see, that violates my own own rules. So I would probably pull him to one side, out of sight of fellow judges, and as nicely as possible ask him to either behave more professionally or leave.

A judge new to judging scoring a beer too low and talking in a private room with fellow judges about “dirty diaper beer?” Not professional, but it doesn’t even come close to a Grand Master using his position like he’s more important than Moses presenting the tablets.

I’m not saying, “Say nothing,” if you find your fellow judge out of line, or going off course. There is something known as tact. One of the most important lessons one can learn to be a good parent; even just an actual adult… other than qualifying by age alone, is how to suggest improvement and provide input without encouraging those who need help to actually do the opposite of what you suggest. That’s what happens if you think behaving worse than Simon Cowell during his nastier moments is how one should behave as a judge.

Many years later, and many, many competitions, I know better and feel I have improved. So have the competitions. So have the other judges, the competition organizers and, yes, the brewers who submit their beer. And we did it all without a a certain judge or treating low rank, to no rank, judges with disrespect.

To carry over one of my favorite phrases I use when writing about working with young children…

“We are all learning.”

Even the BJCP: otherwise the categories we judge wouldn’t keep shifting… categories added, subtracted: improved… hopefully.

We will never learn everything or be perfect.

As a judge, as a brewer and even as a writer, I will always be learning or I might as well get the hell out of whatever I’m doing.

For that is where the true joy; the real adventure, is.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”